January 18, 2016
I’m essential for life but can cause heart disease.
What molecule am I?
Image of Choline 3D Image of Choline

Choline is a water-soluble B vitamin. Unlike most vitamins, it is cationic, which accounts for its solubility.

In 1862, German chemist Adolph Strecker* isolated choline from the bile of pigs and oxen. (Its name is derived from the Greek word for bile.) A few years later, German pharmacologist Oscar Liebreich synthesized choline in the lab.

Choline is an essential nutrient for animals, but humans do not need to ingest it in food or as a dietary supplement unless their diet is low in methionine and folate. If choline supplementation is needed, eggs and meat are excellent sources.

Choline oxidation by gut bacteria is a likely harbinger of heart disease. In 2015, Emily Balskus and her research team at Harvard discovered that microorganisms use the enzyme choline TMA-ylase to break a C–N bond in cholineto form trimethylamine, which then oxidizes to trimethylamine-N-oxide (TMAO). The Cleveland Clinic’s Stanley Hazen previously linked TMAO to heart problems.

*Strecker is better known for his synthesis of amino acids from nonbiochemical starting materials.

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